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Audubon In Love
by Roswell Eldridge M.D.
Roswell Eldridge, MD, organizer of the 2006 international conference on the life of John James Audubon held in Rensselaerville, NY, will be speaking on ‘AUDUBON IN LOVE’. Dr. Eldridge’s talk is based on a little-known but revealing account by the famous, enigmatic nineteenth century painter and naturalist. Audubon’s character, scientific prowess and writing skill come to life in his intimate account of a pair of nesting Eastern Phoebes.
In early April, 1804, 19-year-old Audubon took table and chair and moved in with a pair of ‘plain coloured’ pewee flycatchers, or eastern phoebes, just as the birds returned to their Pennsylvania cave. His extended visits, repeated daily, soon calmed the pair and over the spring and summer nesting season Audubon acquired deep affection for and extraordinary knowledge of this rapidly growing family. His fertile, if untrained, mind generated a series of remarkable speculations. For example, to his ear the songs of his three local phoebe families were identical. However, he heard slight in the songs of phoebes across the creek. Audubon reasoned that his phoebes must all be from the same stock. He tested his theory by attaching fine silver bands to the legs of his nestlings. A year later when he found several phoebes who returned to his locale were banded he had support. Also, at this time Audubon had his famous dream in which was revealed how he could achieve life-size and life-like portrayals of his specimens.
What accounted for this burst of creative activity beginning in 1804? Less than a year before, Audubon had described himself as a carefree youth overly interested in his appearance.
Simply put, Audubon fell in love!
In January 1804 he met the comely girl next door, Lucy Bakewell.. She was 2 years his junior and shared many of his interests. Together they developed a love and commitment that was to endure for the rest of their lives. Evidence for this is felt readily in his account of the pewee flycatcher. He did not publish the account for 30 years. When he did, in an essay to accompany the 1836 engraving of Robert Havell Jr of the Pewee Flycatcher, Audubon’s love for Lucy and his pewees still shone.
Roswell Eldridge, MD